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‘Common sense prevailed’ in Great Dane case

An important decision with implications for all dog owners was made at the Court of Appeal in London this week.

In overturning a decision by a Crown Court, the Appeal judges ruled that if a dog is ‘off the lead’ and of good temperament and character then it is not reasonable to expect the owner to foresee the result of natural behaviour which could cause damage. Had the ruling upheld the conviction, dog owners could have been open to legal action if they let their pet off the lead and it caused any damage. The law states that it is an offence to allow a dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place although local authorities set their own rules.

In 2004, Andrew Jones was training for a forthcoming Marathon when he was knocked over by Hector, a Great Dane and fell into a bed of nettles breaking his ankle. Mr Jones felt he had a reasonable case of negligence against Hector’s owner, Christopher Whippey, an ex employee of the RSPCA who runs a Great Dane rescue service in Boston in Lincolnshire, and began legal proceedings to recover damages.

At Pontefract County Court last year, Judge Robert Bartfield upheld the claim and ordered Mr Jones to be paid £15,000 in compensation. The judge ruled that despite accepting that Hector was gentle and had never been in trouble before, his owner had been negligent in allowing him off the lead.

Mr Whippey challenged the decision, saying it was impossible for him to have predicted that his pet would have jumped up at Mr Jones.

Earlier this week at the Court of Appeal in London, three judges overruled the judgement. They have yet to announce the reasons for their decision.

Had Mr Whippey lost, he would have faced a further bill of £25,000 to cover his opponent's legal costs. ‘Common sense has finally prevailed,’ said Mr Whippey, 'I always knew that I had acted responsibly.'

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